Monday, August 15, 2011

A splendid production

This was my column on the date indicated above.This post is antedated.

Someone once told me that there are no coincidences in life; that everything happens for a specific reason. So perhaps it was destined that on the same week that the Cultural Center of the Philippines was forced to close down its Main Gallery where Mideo Cruz’s art installation Poleteismo was on exhibit, the two cultural productions that were onstage could also be interpreted as scathing commentaries on religious or clerico-fascism.

Showing at the Little Theatre until August 28 is the musical adaptation of Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere (music by Ryan Cayabyab, libretto by National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera, costume design by National Artist Salvador Bernal, direction by Audie Gemora). Everybody in this country knows what the Noli is about and its role in inspiring a revolution against the abuses of Spanish friars and the subsequent call for freedom against all kinds of oppression including religious.

We are celebrating this year the 150th birthday of the national hero. Isn’t it tragic that more than a century after the publication of the Noli, time we’re still seeing vestiges of clerico-fascism operating in this country and that there continues to be far too many Padre Damasos among us?

Also showing over the weekend was Ballet Philippines’ restaging of Encantada, Agnes Locsin’s dance masterpiece. The ballet production bravely takes on a more encompassing form of spirituality showcasing various local myths, traditions, and rituals. However, an integral part of the plot, which provides a crucial element of conflict, is religious oppression and yes, obsessive worship of religious icons and the lengths to which misplaced sense of outrage could lead to disastrous consequences.

In Encantada, a rebel Indio becomes disgusted with the unabated oppression of the people by the religious Frailes. In a fit of rage, he steals a bejeweled icon of the Virgin Mary. The subsequent pursuit leads him to the mountains where the Encantada strips the icon of its jeweled crown and elaborate trappings and enshrines it among her various anitos. When the guardias civil eventually catch up with the indio deep in the Encantada’s mountain sanctuary after an orgy of beheading of suspected rebels and thieves, they are more concerned with the accoutrements of the icon rather than the icon itself.

If this sounds familiar, it is because there are parallels that can be drawn with the recent hullabaloo over the art installation Poleteismo, which was a commentary on icon worship. Truly, it is very easy for people to confuse spirituality and faith with the trappings of idolatry. It is easy to assassinate other people and their work just because they do not conform to the established norms of what faith should be and its many subjective interpretations.

But there is more to Encantada than misplaced icon worship.

It is a neo-ethnic modern dance, a fact that I feel compelled to emphasize because I am aware that there are far too many people in this country who are allergic to classical ballet. When I sounded off the idea of watching a Ballet Philippines production to some of my “younger” friends, I could literally read in their faces their aversion to watching dancers traipsing about daintily in tight costumes accompanied by music produced by classical string instruments.

Not that there is anything inherently wrong with classical ballet, of course; just that we would all be better off if only we opened our minds to various possibilities and the many variations of artistic expression—in this particular case, that art and ballet productions can appeal to all kinds of audiences. The dancers in Encantada don’t even wear ballet shoes all throughout the production; they wear stylized ethnic costumes, and dance to beats and ethnic sounds and music composed performed live by the magnificent Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad and by Bayang Barrios. Encantada also call to mind familiar movements from various local rituals and festivals.

In Encantada, Agnes Locsin fused together classical ballet techniques with stylized Filipino ethnic movements. The results are breathtaking as the audience is treated to a wonderful stylized reinterpretation of various ethnic rituals and movements. The guardias civil, for instance, reinterpret movements from the Moriones and even wear masks that remind the audience of the famed Marinduque festival. Various dances called to mind movements from a variety of ethnic groups from the Igorot to the Bogobo tribes.

The brilliance of Locsin (choreographer), Al Santos (lyricist and librettist), Paul Alexander Morales (BP Artistic Director), and Joey Ayala is evident in this production. The dazzling tapestry of colors, movements and sounds was almost stupefying we didn’t notice that we had spent almost two hours watching the whole production.

Filipino artists are truly among the best in the world, and Encantada is unmistakable proof of that. Here we have an artistic masterpiece that successfully and seamlessly blends together seemingly disparate elements of our cultural heritage.

We trooped to the CCP Saturday night simply expecting to be entertained. We came out of the main theater of the CCP with our mouths agape and with the insane drive to compel all our friends and acquaintances to catch the last performances of Encantada. Had there been a television crew waiting for us at the doors, we would have gladly paid to scream to our hearts content: “Ang ganda ganda! Panoorin nyo! Sobrang Galing!” (Splendid production, watch it, unparalleled artistry!).

Unfortunately, we weren’t watching a trifling Star Cinema movie and the CCP is not exactly ABS-CBN, which never had any qualms about deploying the might of its public affairs crew in the service of its cheap commercial ventures. Where oh where are our media people when truly artistic productions break new grounds that deserve support?

To the credit of the artistic community, the CCP Main Theatre was full last Saturday evening, which was quite unusual for a BP production.

This column salutes Ballet Philippines and the CCP for the courage and commitment to present artistic productions such as Encantada that truly enables and ennobles Filipinos everywhere to feel immeasurable pride and joy.

Let us continue to rally around the CCP particularly at a time like this when narrow-mindedness and political interests seem poised to strangle the spirit that enables it to flourish and continue its mandate: Strengthening the soul of the Filipino people.

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